Thursday, August 1, 2013

a place to lie and a little food

Long after Molloy's cows, later, in the Moran section of Molloy, the sheep are also pastoral, not only located in pasturage but so promising in their tantalising quiet and poetical-pastoral atmosphere that Moran is stricken or awed. "I looked around me again incapable of speech." He wants to say that he is willing to remain by the shepherd. "I longed to say, Take me with you I will serve you faithfully, just for a place to lie and a little food." He senses a paradise, then he is expelled. He leaves and goes on, perhaps into hell. The bees, when he reaches his home, are dead.

But then he is not in hell. First there is winter, then summer. Either real or imagined. He is more like Persephone. "They were the longest, loveliest days of all the year. I lived in the garden." He has been released or freed or permitted into some state or another. I think it is unusual in this book to have two long-sounding relaxed words like that next to one another, "longest, loveliest." I have not double-checked but I believe is not a normal Beckett habit, that relaxed extension of sound. Moran has mentioned "living in the garden" several times now in different tenses. Who knows where he is? Now he is paying more attention to "a voice" that tells him to act, and as he is trying "to understand what it wanted" he refers to himself in the third person: "It did not use the words that Moran had been taught when he was little." Then the I is restored. "I understood it, all wrong perhaps. That is not what matters. It told me to write." But when he goes inside, the act of writing detaches him from himself again. "Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining." Which I read like this: It was not midnight at the time that I was writing, "It is midnight."

I read it as though his ability to unselfconsciously have a memory is being loosened from him perhaps, as he writes now, reflecting on the start of his body of work here, which the reader has just spent however-long addressing with their minds and eyes. I was in a different state as I was writing, he says. I was not myself. I was torn away from myself. The voice that urges me to write is the voice that forces me into the third person. Though he is still writing as he says it. If he is speaking then he is also writing.

This is not like those books that wind around in a circle comfortably and unite with themselves when they tell you in the final paragraph, and then I began to write this story, the same story you've been reading ... The start of Moran has been disturbed, not reinforced. Molloy is not similar to The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, which also ends with the narrator writing the first line: "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house --" or even like In Search of Things Past, whose narrator has discovered the nature of the book he was meant to write. Moran has discovered the book he was meant to write but it is not a relief.

The act of writing has taken him away from the long lovely summer days to midnight and rain: it is a dark act, it has interrupted the image of the summer garden and the crucial songs of the birds whose voices are inexplicable. In 1930 Beckett wrote a monograph on Proust. "Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit," he wrote, and "The creation of the world did not take place once and for all time, but takes place every day." (Every moment is the moment to escape from sin, says Kierkegard in Sickness Unto Death, tranalated by Alastair Hannay: it is sin to remain in despair, for despair is sin.)


  1. You write:

    "Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining." Which I read like this: It was not midnight at the time that I was writing, "It is midnight."

    That, and the fact that fiction is often counterfactual in the service of other ends.


  2. What do you think are the "other ends," beyond proving that words can be used to say one thing and then say the opposite, and that both things are then equally true because words have said both of them (as if wood could be used to make a tree and then a not-tree), and there is no reality in the book beyond the things that words say; therefore the entire book and every statement in it could be possibly be understood as a lie that means the opposite of what it says, or something different in any case, or sometimes a lie and sometimes not, depending on the whim of the author, which no human being can possibly know, a sort of buried Oulipo structure that will never be revealed now to anyone ever?

  3. Hello.
    I've fallen behind
    In all the wrong things.
    Forgive me.
    "Other ends-"
    Prose fiction has layers.
    Proving that words can mean this or that is one layer.
    But by meaning this or that,
    Words refer to a world beyond the text.


    "Other ends-"
    To say something about truth.
    To say something about beauty.
    To say something about values.
    To say something about how to live in a world,
    On borrowed time, with borrowed eyes,
    With which to sorrow
    And rejoice over the heart of the matter.

  4. I had a discussion just last night with someone about the words "beauty" and "truth." We were at an art gallery and the gallery was holding a panel discussion between a number of artists; one of them quoted Keats. Conclusion we reached was that the words were so fraught and vague that they were almost useless when it came to discussing art. (If I had that person here now I would say that those words act like business-speak buzzphrases. They sound so grand and fancy that reason evaporates in front of them.) So this interests me. Is it necessary to know or believe that the author wrote with the deliberate notion of saying "something about beauty" or should we take it for granted that a long body of words assembled in a sane grammatical order will inherently address beauty, truth, values, and so forth?